Mail-order brides, trampolining dogs, delinquent dragons: the 10 best John Lewis Christmas ads

  Reading time 8 minutes

For 12 years, the John Lewis Christmas advert has been the UK’s signal to commence festive operations. What a magnificent tradition this has become. Every year, come November, everyone gathers around their social media platform of choice and watches a person or a thing do something bittersweet and completely unrelated to the workings of a modern-day department store, while some poor wisp bleats out a slowed-down, acoustic version of a song that everyone previously thought was a banger. And then they spend the rest of the day arguing with strangers about how much it made them cry. It is beautiful.

This year’s advert has just dropped: a man learning to skateboard to bond with his foster child. To mark this important moment in British history, let’s count down the Top 10 John Lewis Christmas adverts.

10 Man on the Moon (2015)

Song: Half the World Away by Aurora

A young girl spots an old man living alone on the moon. After struggling to get his attention, she sends him a telescope so that they can wave at each other a bit. At the time of its release, Owen Jones wrote that the advert “highlights how fragmented our society has become”. That said, you don’t just exile a man on the literal moon for no reason, do you? He must have done something truly dreadful to warrant such a punishment.

9 Monty the Penguin (2014)

Song: Real Love by Tom Odell

A sentimental pile-up of twist after twist. First we meet a boy who has a penguin for a pet. Then the penguin outgrows the boy and starts to desire the lure of romantic love. Then the boy buys his penguin a mail-order penguin bride and keeps it trapped in a box until Christmas. Then it is revealed that both penguins were just toys all along and the thing was nothing but the desperate, lonely fantasy of a child who is coming to understand that true happiness will forever be beyond his grasp. Merry Christmas!

8 The Bear and the Hare (2013)

Song: Somewhere Only We Know by Lily Allen

I have to admit a soft spot for this one – the only 2D animated entry in John Lewis Christmas ad history. There’s a wonderful picture book quality to the story of a bear and a hare who are fast friends, and the hare’s loneliness upon realising that his best friend has gone away to hibernate. In the end, they are reunited when the hare buys the bear an alarm clock for Christmas. It is thought that some bears can die of starvation if their hibernation is interrupted. But whatever – it’s Christmas.

7 Excitable Edgar (2019)

Song: Can’t Fight This Feeling by Bastille

The Edgar of the title is a stumbling infant dragon, who appears to be intent on burning everything to the ground. The villagers build an ice rink; he melts it. They erect a Christmas tree; he incinerates it. In the end an uneasy compromise is reached when he sets fire to a Christmas pudding. Fun fact: in the ensuing years, Excitable Edgar grew up to be one of the dragons from House of the Dragon. The one that eats children, probably. He has that sort of look about him.

6 Buster the Boxer (2016)

Song: One Day I’ll Fly Away by Vaults

A dog on a trampoline. That’s pretty much all there is to this advert. There is a girl who wants to go on a trampoline, but she can’t because there’s a dog on it. The advert inspired countless videos of real-life dogs on trampolines, which in turn inspired the website Vets Now to tell the story of a dog that badly injured itself on a trampoline. Vets “found a huge tear in his bladder and over a litre of urine in his abdomen”, the report stated.

5 Moz the Monster (2017)

Song: Golden Slumbers by Elbow

On one hand, this is one of the most elaborate ads in the history of John Lewis ads – a Michel Gondry-directed epic concerning a boy who befriends the monster under his bed. On the other, it’s easily the most controversial, with illustrator (and, at that point, UK children’s laureate) Chris Riddell claiming that the entire thing ripped off his 1986 book Mr Underbed.

4 A Tribute to Givers (2010)

Song: Your Song by Ellie Goulding

This was the first true John Lewis Christmas ad and the one that every subsequent campaign has cribbed from. There was a strange sadness, perhaps because the advert appeared to be set during a heavily depopulated nuclear winter. And there was the heartwarming message that giving is always better than receiving, especially when you are giving people things from John Lewis. The adverts have grown more elaborate in the years since, but this is where it all originated.

3 The Long Wait (2011)

Song: Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want by Slow Moving Millie

A boy waits for Christmas Day with increasing impatience. As his uninterested parents go about their business, he spins in circles, desperate to move time forward. Is it because he is a greedy little brat who wants nothing more than to add to his pile of meaningless stuff? No. It’s because – get this – he is actually excited to give a hand-wrapped present to his parents. The twist landed so perfectly that you sense John Lewis has been chasing that same feeling ever since.

2 The Boy & The Piano (2018)

Song: Your Song by Elton John

There may not be many more John Lewis Christmas ads. The company is losing hundreds of millions of pounds every year and many of its direct competitors have long since fallen into liquidation. My guess is that this will go down as the last great Christmas ad the company makes. It traces back through the glories of Elton John’s career – the screaming fans, the private jets – until we finally see him as a small child, being given a piano by his mother. The advert ends with Elton, old and frail, closing his eyes as if in a dream.

1 The Journey (2012)

Song: The Power of Love by Gabrielle Aplin

The moment when the John Lewis Christmas advert became an institution. The story is simple enough – a snowman goes shopping for his wife – but the whole thing is suffused with almost unbearable levels of drama and emotion. It’s a happy tale told in a melancholy way and its influence has now lasted a decade.

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3 thoughts on “Mail-order brides, trampolining dogs, delinquent dragons: the 10 best John Lewis Christmas ads

  1. Informative, but not convincing. Something is missing, and what I don’t understand. But, I’ll be blunt: – light and benevolent thoughts.

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